What Is The Proper Length For A Blog Post?

Four well-dressed men holding beer bottles

(A version of this post can be found here. Based upon recent discussions I thought it made sense to run it again.)

She accused me of plagiarism and gave me 12 ‘F’s. Don’t ask me to try and explain how I received those 12 failing marks on one paper because I can’t tell you.

It happened twenty-six years ago and I simply don’t remember what sort of cockamamie grading system she had in place. I remember her black wig and how she liked to eat raw sticks of butter.

And I remember how she told me that my writing was inferior. It made me angry but I didn’t let that stop me. When she refused to listen to me and insisted that I had cheated on my paper I decided that she was unhinged.

Of course that was before I noticed the wig and sticks of butter. When you are a 17  year-old boy you tend not to notice that kind of stuff because you are too busy trying to look cool in front of the girls.

I don’t know that I ever managed to pull off cool, but I think it is fair to say that I learned how to write. That is assuming that you accept her insistence that my writing was inferior.

I suppose it is possible that it was, but I doubt it. Since I don’t have any of the papers I wrote for that class you’ll have to decide if you accept her word or mine.

Writing Isn’t About Limits

Every week I try to participate in several different online writing groups. Some of these groups provide writing prompts for us to write about. In addition to a topic they usually provide a word count and ask that we not exceed it.

I hate word counts. I don’t like limits. Writing isn’t about limits.

Writing is about telling a story. It is about using words to paint a picture inside the minds of the readers.

Word counts create limits that impact the tales that must be told.

Don’t limit yourself. Don’t let your stories be ripped apart, shredded and destroyed by the limits of length. A tale must be as long as it needs to be to be told.

Tighten Your Tale

A while back someone told me that word counts were a good way to instill discipline in our writing. They said we should limit our words to only those we require to tell the tales that must be told.

My response was that “brevity can bite me.”

That is because my stories are going to be as long as they need to be. I wish that I had told the Butter Eater to adjust her wig and suck on another salty stick. She wasn’t supposed to try to crush the imaginations and dreams of her students.

Don’t get me wrong because she didn’t crush mine. She lit a fire under my ass and made me want to prove her wrong. But that is neither here nor there.

When you are telling the tales that must be told you need to just write. You need to put pen to paper or fingertip to keyboard and let the words flow forth. Write first and edit later.

Word counts cause confusion because they create a condition in which you let your internal editor take creative control. Don’t do that. Write with reckless abandon and use as many words as you need.

I am not repetitive because I am forgetful. I am repetitive because it is necessary.

Tell A Story

A story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Every story you write needs those three things. Go read It Was Logical and you’ll find them there waiting for your visit.

Word counts are for bad stories. Word counts are for worriers who wonder how they are going to read 100 papers. Word counts are for very specific papers and purposes but they should only be used as guidelines and not as law.

Learn how to tell the tales that must be told with talent and you won’t ever have to worry about a word count again.

And now if you will excuse me I am going to start stretching because in a moment I am going to be chased by a thousand angry editors. So I am going to run and lead them on a merry chase hither and thither.

Once they are exhausted and worn out from our time on the road I shall sit down and let them know that I believe in brevity. I will tell them that we should all work on tightening our tales and using fewer words to tell them.

But it should only be done after we have spit out how ever many words it takes to tell the tales that must be told.

Just write my friends without wonder or worry. Just write without regard for word count, editors or readers because when you do that your passion will come out and your personality will prevail.

Success shall be ours.

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  1. Nina April 24, 2013 at 9:33 am

    I’m the kind of person (aka, TYPE A) that loves a word count and a deadline. I write best with some structure or frankly, I will spend all day on Twitter. 😉

  2. Joe April 24, 2013 at 7:10 am

    I’m not a fan of word limits either, but I have to admit it has helped me learn to edit.

  3. Geoff Livingston April 23, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Word counts didn’t seem to stop Mark Twain! I went to write an essay last weekend, and it finished at 500 words. Wasn’t an essay, but it was a complete thought and story. THat’s all I need. Complete story.

  4. Gina April 23, 2013 at 7:54 am

    I absolutely agree. I have certainly sacrificed creativity because of it. I always like your tenacity.

    • Jack April 23, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      Hi G,

      Tenacity is one thing I have in ample supply. Sometimes you just have to write and not be stopped by obnoxious and unhelpful restrictions.

  5. Julie Barrett April 23, 2013 at 7:50 am

    I was fighting this fight just last night with the boy who will use Dragon Naturally Speaking to edit as he goes. I kept saying,”Just talk it all out and say everything you want to say. When it’s all in the computer we will edit it.” He has no idea how to write “The Five Paragraph Essay” (the bastion of third grade competancy, they tell me), nor how to organize his thoughts, nor what beginning/middle/end nor editing really means. But how are we going to teach him those things if he doesn’t even know exactly what he wants to say until he says it? Begin without parameters and see what transpires. Maybe something phenomenal will come out in the process of just writing.

    I guess I hate when people tell kids or bloggers what their process should be.

    Or I could have just said, I agree.

    • Jack April 23, 2013 at 8:51 pm

      I am with you on that and have had similar conversations with my son. Put it on the page and then we can worry about what belongs or doesn’t belong. It is hard when they are so unfamiliar with what is expected.

  6. Elizabeth Lee April 23, 2013 at 7:48 am

    I agree…but only if the writer knows how to edit. I’ve seen some people ramble on forever about nothing.

    • Jack April 23, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      Editing is important, but it is a skill that can be developed with time and experience. Since many people run short I tend to push for opportunities to get their thoughts on the page. It is often easier to cut than add.

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